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  • Cyclists vs. cars: Locked forever in life-and-death struggle for right of way

    Iím trying to stay calm, but I can see whatís happening:

    The driver behind me is speeding up to pass just before the roundabout. Heíll squeeze me out and then hit the brakes, causing me to do the same and kill my precious momentum on this sweet downhill cruise into town.

    Do you have to be like this? If you wait a moment Ė seriously, a second or less Ė I will get to the traffic-less roundabout first, pedal around it at 25 mph, and quickly be half a block ahead of your less-agile vehicle. You can then pass me at your leisure.

    And I wonít be all flustered and cursing, and Iíll be in a good mood when I get to work and the world will be a better place.

    Cyclists vs. cars. Does anyone win?

    Definitely not the cyclist.

    For cyclists, itís a high-stakes guessing game: Is that car going to turn in front of me? Does that driver see me? Does that driver even care?

    Iím not interested in going to war, so I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? (Rest in peace, Rodney King.)

    Itís a fact of life, and itís pervasive in Durango: Cyclists donít like careless car drivers, drivers donít like cyclists.

    I see both sides of this. Really. When Iím in a car, cyclists can tick me off. They run stop signs and red lights, and worst of all, they ride two abreast and in big packs, slowing me to a crawl on two-lane roads.

    So when Iím on a bike I try to be conscientious. I stay out of the way whenever possible. And I try not to get angry at vehicle-driving humans. But I do. In the case of the roundabout, consider this, good driver:

    For you, making an adjustment is as easy as lifting your foot. How much effort and energy are we talking there? For me, an adjustment means jamming on the brakes, losing my momentum and restarting.

    Itís true, coming to a stop isnít the end of my world. Unnecessary and aggravating, yes. Life-threatening? Of course not.

    Really, the biggest issue here is my vulnerability. You the driver have a metal protective shell. Youíre jamming to the stereo or are gabbing on the cellphone. In your cage, youíre oblivious to the natural world. You may be in danger, but not from me. For protection I have a helmet Ė which I would prefer not to put to full use. I feel every breeze and raindrop. Iím in a life-or-death struggle with potholes, gravel and shattered tequila bottles.

    Yes, itís a huge hassle for you should you hit me (talking to police, scraping my skin off your grill), but is there more reason for you to give me respect? Maybe.

    Not that Iím better than you, dear driver, but Iím actively helping my fellow man. Iím conserving fuel, Iím exercising to conserve societyís medical costs, Iím conserving a valuable parking spot downtown. I mean, look at all the good Iím doing! How humble can you get?

    Still not sold? OK, hereís a deal. If you promise not to cut me off, I promise not to blatantly run stop signs. Iíll ride single file. And Iíll signal with my arms to keep you in the loop on where Iím going.

    And when weíre both on the bike path Ė when roles are reversed, and Iím the one on the menacing, fast-moving machine Ė I promise this: I will slow down. I will ring my bell and audibly warn when Iím passing Ė even if you choose to shut out the world with your earbuds.

    From a cyclistís perspective, drivers generally can be broken down into three categories.

    Those who make it a point to disrespect you. Theyíll accelerate just as they get alongside and leave you breathing diesel. No hope there.

    Some who are in too big a hurry. They may not mean any harm, but theyíll cut you off or turn in front of you and leave you wishing for a horn to honk.

    Those who understand and do everything right. And I want to believe thatís the majority, especially in this bike-friendly town. The regret here is that this latter group doesnít get its deserved kudos. Thatís just the way it is with humans: When things run smoothly we donít notice.

    So, raise a water bottle to all those unsung folks who are courteous and kind and never get any credit or anything in return.

    I donít know exactly who you are, but thank you very, very much.

    johnp@durangoherald.com John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column and often rides his bicycle to work unless itís really icy.